Addiction experts warn: Texas push for online sports betting is a public health gamble

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From Texas Standard:

Advertisements for sports betting apps such as Caesar’s Sportsbook aired on Texas televisions during the Super Bowl, even though sports betting is not legal in Texas.

Currently, New York is the most populous state with legalized sports betting. New Yorkers placed nearly $1.7 billion in sports betting in January alone.

Texas’ huge population and fanatical sports culture make it a “white whale” for the gambling industry. Additionally, Texas is soccer country, and soccer is by far the most betting sport.

But in Texas, gambling in general is still considered a “taboo industry.”

“Texas has historically been very culturally conservative with a very strong religious component in the Legislature to the extent that a lot of their legislators display that kind of attitude, at least outwardly, like, no game, no taboo industries here,” said Becca Giden, Policy Director for Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.

Still, Giden thinks it’s inevitable that Texas will legalize sports betting.

Public health concerns related to gambling

If and when that happens, some Texans will be more vulnerable to the flip side of gambling fun: gambling addiction. Chris Anderson knows all about it.

“I went bust in the stock market and ended up in bankruptcy court. My house in foreclosure, ended up in divorce court, ended up in the suicide ward of the Austin State Hospital,” Anderson said.

Anderson is now one of the few therapists in Texas who specializes in gambling addiction recovery. He says he sees patients all the time who struggle to make just one more bet to cover their previous losses. .

Gaming disorder affects about 1% of the adult population and is probably even more common in young adults. Anderson says it affects the brain like an addiction.

“A lot of times we lump gambling, sex, cocaine together, because all of those things target what’s called a dopamine neurotransmitter in the brain, which is the pleasure center of the brain, and that dopamine increases,” Anderson said. . “In other words, the player is high in expectation of the result.”

The people most vulnerable to gambling addiction are those the sports betting industry covets the most: young men. Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, says they are the industry’s key demographic.

“They are…actively targeted by gaming industry marketing, and not necessarily because they tend to have gambling problems, but because they tend to be very active gamers. But that means there is a higher risk there,” Whyte said.

Military service members and veterans have “twice as many gambling problems” as the general public, says Whyte. Additionally, research suggests that the risk of gambling problems is higher in minority groups.

And the word “risk” doesn’t quite capture what’s at stake for some people with a gambling addiction. Whyte says a lifetime’s savings can be wiped out in a day of betting. That’s partly because of the way people bet in sports betting right now: it’s mostly electronic.

“You can lose your house, you know, in a few bets,” Whyte said. “And so how quickly you could empty your money, and especially money these days that’s in electronic form. You know, it’s just that there are only digital ones and zeros.

Does legalizing gambling make it safer?

But that’s exactly why some argue that legalizing betting is a way to make something so many Texans already do safer — to the tune of more than $5 billion every year. Foreign operations take bettors’ personal information and money without any guarantee that they will be paid.

“They might never even see their payment. And I’ve even heard stories of betting platforms popping up, and by the time you go to collect your winnings, they’re completely gone and you’re out,” said Cara Gustafson of the Texas-based Sports Betting Alliance.

Besides security, she says not legalizing in Texas leaves money on the table — potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax revenue that she says lawmakers could set aside for education. special or property tax relief.

But legalized sports betting could also come with hidden costs. Whyte of the National Council on Problem Gambling says the “social costs” of gambling addiction nationally amount to about $7 billion a year.

“And that’s primarily criminal justice and health care costs, so that’s primarily the responsibility of the state government,” Whyte said.

Whyte says betting can be legalized in a way that also protects those at risk of problem gambling. But it also requires a serious investment in resources and prevention of gambling addiction. billion in revenue in fiscal year 2021.

Gustafson and the Texas Sports Betting Alliance will push again for the legalization of sports betting in the 2023 legislative session, and she is confident about their prospects. This could be because his supporters include every professional team in Texas, from the Rangers to the Rockets to Austin FC and more.

But Anderson, the drug addict and recovering therapist, has a warning: “Gambling is not a win-win proposition…The question Texas lawmakers need to ask themselves if they are responsible and doing their jobs responsibly responsible is, what’s the cost to the state of Texas and the citizens of the state of Texas on the losing side of the bet, and they’re completely irresponsible if they don’t, because I promise you there’s a cost.

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, call or text the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network at 1-800-522-4700 or visit ncpg.org. And if you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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